Sacred Hidden Wells Of Connemara
I’m going to do something I have been meaning to do for a few years now, a live blog as I travel through the day.
I have a free day without a touring group in the Connemara region of Co. Galway and have decided to explore some of the many sacred and holy wells on the islands and peninsulas along its south coast.
The weather in the morning is dry, cloudy, hazy, some sun breaks, and quite warm for September, about 65 degrees F.
Chadhain Well, nr. Costelloe, OS 45 L 966 284
Beside busy main road, R336 Costelloe to Maam road, about 1km north of Costelloe. opposite Lough ui Chadhain, look for small waterfall from rocks on right as you travel from Costelloe.
natural well, no human construction surrounding it, not signposted,
water quite discoloured by peat but always fresh, but I did not drink it,
positioned in a very rough stony and boggy field, with stepping stones to get to the well,
access from the road is by very loose barbed wire with stones placed as stepping stones each side,
park on wide track about 200m north of well, and walk back.
Clynagh Well, nr. Costelloe, OS 45 L 955 273
Beside main road, R343 Costelloe to Carraroe road, about 1km south west of Costelloe. Very built up community, restored houses, new houses, and thatched houses that are new. Unfortunately, lots of unfriendly barking dogs and equally unfriendly and unhelpful humans, none with Connemara or even Irish accents. I think developments destroyed the well as I could not find it.
Tuairin Well, nr. Costelloe, OS 45 L 933 284
More blue sky and sun as I arrive here. As often happens, a dog comes up to see what I am doing, a gentle german shepherd puppy.
Turn left at Carrowroe West on R374 about 2.5km north west of Costelloe. Beside a pretty sea inlet and population moving in here too with new houses being built and restorations happening.
There is an interesting small round headland that instinctively feels like it was a monastic site of some form. There are signs of circular wall construction. Walking around the headland, on the shore there are signs of a natural water outlet. No water running from this, but I assume this was or is the well.
Beside the headland is a pretty stream, but as it reaches the shore is sadly polluted with the remains of old vehicles and trailers. The other side of the headland is the storage area of the local currach fishing boats.
Leighon Island Well, nr. Lettermore Island, OS 44 L 905 312
A lesson to take my map with me. I parked at the crossroads of the Bialann Golf Club and walked around the greens. This is a 10 to 15 mins walk including over the bridge to the island. I walked over the shore to a tiny island and found what I saw was a dry outlet to a well. After the uphill climb back to my minibus, upon checking my map found I had gone to the wrong place.
Not wanting to repeat the walk I went down into a nearby graveyard to see if I could spy it from there. The graveyard itself was interesting as it has two streams running as a cross, but neither leading into a well. Looking from here I could see the shoreline holy well was in one of two places, but both hard to get to unless tide is really low.
The golf course is interesting, with greens constructed on what seem to be replicas of ancient court cairn and large alter sites marked with impressive reproduction standing stones. I would think it would seem like playing golf around a reproduction of the Glencolumcille Turas here. I did pass a hole that was either another sacred well or a flooded sauterrain. Either way, this must be quite a challenge if golf balls land there.
Despite not closely approaching the well a visit here is worth it just for the best vistas I have seen of the Connemara landscape. A lovely ambience is here. Though I do not play golf I suspect this must be one of Ireland’s most enjoyable as well as most challenging courses.
Lettercallow Well, Lettermore Island, OS 44 L 860 291
This time, instead of guard dogs it was guard donkeys. My presence caused quite a braying along the sea shore fields.
I am on the shore on the far west of Lettermore Island and into some quite authentic Connemara landscape of rugged seashore, small stone walled fields and vernacular stone cottages. I walked the shore north of the small Inchagaun island.
At one point I was starting to think that shore line sacred wells are almost impossible to find. After awhile I found an totally unexpected seam of glowing white quartz stone, or is this Connemara marble, so I thought I must be near. Yes, behind a dip behind this seam was a freshwater pool. The water was peaty brown but tasted sweet and fresh, certainly not a shore rock pool.
I would like to visit at least one well with some sign of ritual so I am going to skip several wells I have listed on Lettermore, Gorumna and Lettermullan islands and head straight to Furnace Island where many wells are listed. Fortunately these islands are all linked with road causeways, similar to the Orkney Isles system.
North Furnace Well, Furnace Island, OS 44 L 860 291
A surprising island. Most of the roads are dirt tracks but the modern bungalow development has almost turned this island into a town, yet a town with no shop, no church, no bar, just bungalows. Why? As I reached the north of the island I was welcomed with a barrage of “private property” and “no parking signs”, signs that showed I must have been getting nearer to something good.
Again, the well I was seeking was a shoreline well. I did find one spot that is safe to park and took an encouraging looking track towards the shore. This is a pebbled road of the style of an ancient green road. I was excited. At the end of the track are beautiful pure white sanded beaches embraced with emerald green sea. I now realized that the discouragement signs were not directed to holy well pilgrims but to beautiful beach seekers. Is it these beaches that have caused the excessive development here?
Fortunately, these beaches are hidden from the metropolis and I was the only one present. This is one of the finest spots on the Connemara and one of the best beach areas in Ireland. There is also a very strong Iona feel here. It looks like Iona’s beaches.
I looked for the well and found several clear fresh water pools, some fed from both surface and underground streams. I think they must be all sacred and holy.
As I was leaving along the old green road, I found another very deep pool with a broken pipe. This seemed to either once connected to someone’s water supply or is the remains of a tap that was once there. Nearby is a pole that once must have had a sign. This may well be the ‘official’ well.
There was a traveller parked with his caravan nearby so I asked him if he could enlighten me. He also revealed he did not know which was the holy well, but did get his own water supply from a variety of the pools here.
This is a place I may well consider bringing future travellers and groups to. It is a quiet sacred place, once on the shore. Parking is an issue though, with only enough nearby parking for one vehicle.
Golam Wells, Lettermullan Island, by Gorumna Island OS 44 L 825 213
Listed as two shoreline wells, but so hard to find. This is a beautiful headland with lovely paths to explore. One well is actually shown as sited on a cliff where I found freshwater pools, but I could not decide which is the well.
Just as I was about to try and seek the lower shoreline well Claire phoned to announce she had arrived at Oughterard and had planned a surprise for me. This was my birthday so it was hot foot to the minibus to drive back to meet her.
Lough Awilla Crannog, Gorumna Island OS 44 L 873 232
Obviously not a well, but I could not resist stopping at this beautiful example of a man made island, the first I have seen in the Connemara away from Lough Corrib. As usual, this Crannog had its resident pair of swans, though they were camera shy. It looked like the water levels were low because some of the “secret” underwater stepping stone path to the crannog were visible.
I think this day is quite a good example of the groundwork I have done for several years to find wonderful sites to include for tours. I have visited 1000s of sites and quite often I cannot find the sites on a first visit. Sometimes I did not look close enough, sometimes the OS map is marked wrong, sometimes the site’s remains have totally gone and sometimes the remains are not worth a further visit.
On this trip it seems as if I did not even really find a definite well, though north of Furnace island is definitely worth more attention.
Next time I have time to spare in the southern Connemara I’ll move onto the more land based wells on the Kilkieran peninsula and curious Mweenish Island.
Meanwhile, the surprise the Claire took me too is worth another blog post as this is somewhere that I would definitely like to take interested future groups to. This was a very good day!